Knowing by Subtracting (A Post About Math?) by Otis
Hello Anatomy of Marriage followers!
Several weeks ago, we put a call out to you, asking if you had any blog posts that you had written that would be helpful to our audience. Several of you responded, including Otis from Finding Otis, check out his blog HERE! The following post was originally published on July 13, 2017 to his blog. Thank you for letting us share your work, Otis! Enjoy the post, everyone, and check out the other posts on his blog when you have read this one.
The language we use is important.
It’s the difference between communicating the intricacies and weathered history of a term of endearment and referring to your supposed loved one with a definitive article in front of their representative noun: the difference between calling your spouse “darling” and “the wife”. I’ve spent the last few blog posts trying to communicate this very idea, though my headlines might seem contrary.
Let’s talk about the language we use in math.
(bet you didn’t see that coming)
When we want to know what 10 minus 7 is, we compare the two numbers, and find the difference. That’s an interesting word to use, right? We don’t typically think of finding the difference between two things as having an intimate connection with the idea of subtraction, but the mathematicians were certainly onto something when they began to use this word to signify subtraction.
In math classes, we learn that there are certain words to look out for that will hint us toward the type of operation we should be using to find the answer to a word problem. Quotients mean you’re looking to construct an equation through division. If the paragraph mentions “the sum of something”, then you’re looking to add a few things together. And then when you see the word “difference”, you’re distinctly aware that you’re looking for a subtraction problem.
Unlike the word quotient or sum, using the word “difference” is commonplace, at least in comparison to some other math terms. “Difference” does not represent an often foreign idea to the common speaker, like quotient, and neither does it have a more common synonym, like the word “total” or “addition” being used in place of “sum”. The word “difference” is important.
This mathematical nomenclature touches on a deeper truth through which human beings often evaluate other human beings, and most of all, themselves.
The difference between 10 and 7 is 3, and the difference between me and my brothers is: I’m the tallest even though I’m the youngest; I’m the whitest (we have a biracial dad) even though I’m the only one who speaks a second language; I’m the first one to be college-educated even though I’m the last one to be born.
Here, in this set of subtractions, I’ve denoted my strengths by showcasing their failures, or to be more specific, their lack of being similar to me. Though there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being shorter than your younger sibling, or not knowing a second language, or not going to college, seen in light of another individual who has, in fact, done all these things, there is, necessarily, a stigma attached to the other individuals being compared to the former: me.
There was once a philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who suggested that people should always treat other people “never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” I, for the most part, don’t agree with this theory of ethics in general; however, this particular formulation is the place in his argument which I found a resonance. Kant, here, shows a deep respect for the innate value human beings have. That is what makes the trespassing thereof so diabolic. Kant, like the mathematicians, touches on this deeper truth: that human beings are valuable in and of themselves. In fact, the way to recognizing this true value is not through means of subtraction, but with first formulating a presumption of all human beings that their worth simply exists outside of comparisons, and is ultimately self-evident and impossible to revoke.
No one has ever been the smaller number in an equation in which they are subtracted from another and come out the other end not feeling violated. Every human being, like Kant, like the mathematicians, recognizes this truth through the realization of their hurt feelings. Moreover, it only artificially boosts the ego to be the larger number in the equation. In this case, a disservice is being done to a human being, again. When we come out on top of the equation, we recognize ourselves as a 3 when we were previously a 10 in the prior equation. Thus, finding value in yourself from subtraction is just as detrimental as devaluing others through the same process.
The purpose of this blog post was to help you become more aware that everyone, including yourself, uses the language of comparison, and though we often don’t think of it in this way, comparing two things means subtracting one against another to find the difference. Hopefully, you’ve become more aware that you, outside of whom you measure up to, are valuable intrinsically.
Use language that acknowledges that